Project management tips.

Why Conflict is Good for Your Project

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Why Conflict is Good for your Project

When I was a younger project manager, I strove for perfection. The ultimate goal was to run the perfect project where everything was completed on-time, within budget, with great quality and to the absolute delight of the customer. When I say everything had to be perfect, I mean everything. Every milestone. Every task. Every detail.

I was fortunate to manage a few projects that went pretty much just like that. Nearly perfect. And when all was said and done, we patted ourselves on the back for a job well done and said, “Thank you,” when the customer told us what a great job we did. Then…we moved on to the next project. Just like that.

The customer was happy but nobody really noticed. Nobody really said anything beyond “Hey, great job!” Nobody talked about those projects during coffee breaks. Nobody conducted deep-dive analyses to find out exactly how things went so smoothly. Nobody is talking about those projects to this day. They simply aren’t the stuff of legends.

On the flip-side, I’ve managed a few projects that had major, major problems and when all was said and done, I walked away looking pretty good because somehow, some way, we managed to get the job done.

Why is it that nobody cares when everything goes according to plan but the projects with massive problems become the stuff of legend and folklore?

It’s almost as if a project must have problems, sometimes big problems, before people take notice. When the problems do not get resolved, the project manager is usually the villain or the goat. However, when those big problems do get resolved, the project manager is a hero.

The entertainment industry has this figured out. It’s why they don’t produce movies where everything goes well. Sure, there is often a happy ending in a Hollywood script but how does the story reach the happy ending? It’s the conflict that makes a movie interesting. It’s the conflict that keeps us on the edge of our seats, waiting to see what will happen next.

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story, Donald Miller says that a story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. All good movies have conflict. All good stories have conflict.

Without conflict, a story is simply a character who wants something and gets it.

Boring.

Projects are a lot like movies, stories and life. The conflict is what makes a movie or story interesting. Conflict makes life interesting. It’s also what makes projects interesting. But much more than being interesting, the presence of conflict is a good indicator that a project is doing something important. I would go as far as saying that if conflict is completely absent from your project, there is a good chance that your project isn’t making enough difference for people to actually care.

So don’t be afraid of a little — or even big — conflict on your projects. Don’t seek conflict just to make the project more entertaining. But embrace the challenges that come up. Especially if the conflict relates to quality.

When your project is finally completed, it will feel that much more satisfying and you’ll have a much better story to tell. Who knows? You might even be the next hero.

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About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn

By |January 16th, 2013|Tips|Comments Off on Why Conflict is Good for Your Project|

Success: Mission, Vision, Goals, Objectives…and Projects!

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Success: Mission, Vision, Goals, Objectives... And Projects!

When it comes to success, there’s lots of talk about mission statements, vision statements, goals and objectives — and for good reason. These tools can be incredibly helpful to define the what and the why of success. A great mission statement helps people understand the underlying reason why the team or organization exists. A good vision statement defines a preferred future that inspires individuals, teams and organizations to see what the future could or should look like. A solid set of goals provides more tangible, shorter-term targets.

Mission, vision, goals and objectives. Great tools to help you achieve success. Invaluable, really…but incomplete. Because while mission statements define purpose, they won’t help you get there. Vision is critical but without a plan of attack, without action, a vision is simply a dream or a mirage — something that could be…but won’t be.

Strategy and discipline are what sit in the gap of what could be and what will be. While mission and vision define the what and why, strategy answers the critical question, how? How do we achieve the mission? How do we accomplish the goals? How do we move forward? Discipline is the ability to keep going when you’d rather stop.

And that is precisely where projects fit in.

A project is something that you plan and do, usually in a series of steps, to achieve a specific objective or outcome within a specific timeframe.

project defines how to get stuff done: what to do, when to do it and who will do it. A well-defined project also provides an excellent discipline structure to achieve short-term goals that align back to mission and vision before motivation wanes.

I believe that executing projects is one of the best ways to get things done and, ultimately, getting things done is what drives success. Want to be successful? Start getting more things done. Want to get more things done? Start defining and executing projects! Want to learn how to define and execute projects more effectively? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

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About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn

By |January 3rd, 2013|Tips|Comments Off on Success: Mission, Vision, Goals, Objectives…and Projects!|

What is a Project Manager?

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What is a Project Manager?

project is something that you plan and do, usually in a series of steps, to achieve a specific objective or outcome within a specific timeframe. The goal of a project is to achieve some sort of positive result, benefit or success.

A project manager is someone who oversees the completion of a project.

Typically, a project manager helps define the core elements of the project — scope, schedule, and resources — based on the defined goals and objectives. Then, the project manager uses tools and techniques to manage people to achieve the goals on-time, within the established budget and with the quality desired.

There are nine primary responsibilities of a project manager:

  • Manage Scope. Scope defines what will be done as part of a project. Anything that must be done is considered “in scope.” Anything excluded from the project is “out of scope.” A project manager must ensure that items in-scope are delivered while not getting unduly distracted by items that are out-of-scope.
  • Manage Schedule. A project manager must drive the project toward completion within a specific period of time. This includes hitting macro-level schedule targets (e.g. complete project by the end of the year) as well as micro-level targets (e.g. task must be completed this week).
  • Manage Resources. A variety of resources are needed to execute each project: people, physical locations, hardware, software, etc. A project manager must keep an eye on all resources that are needed and plan ahead to secure them in-time, keep them working together toward the project goal and let go of them when no longer needed.
  • Manage Budget or Cost. A project manager must have a clear understanding of budget constraints and must manage resources effectively in order to stay within the financial budget.
  • Manage Quality. Quality is probably the most subjective thing that a project manager must manage. It’s so subjective at times that I purposely call it a thing. To a large degree, quality is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, it’s critical that a project manager know who ultimately “owns” the project and be sure to understand his or her view of quality so that it can be achieved.
  • Manage Communication. Meetings, hallway discussions, emails, phone calls, conference calls, PowerPoint decks and documents. During a typical project, all of these communication methods — and others — are used to convey important messages to others. A project manager must communicate well.
  • Manage Risks and Issues. A project manager must always be looking for, assessing and proactively managing problems and potential problems that could impact the success of his or her project. Risks are things that might impact the project in the future based on what is known at that moment. Issues are things with a definite impact on the project.
  • Manage Vendors and Service Providers. Many projects require input from multiple organizations. A project manager must ensure that other organizations do what is needed to deliver the project successfully.
  • Manage Integration with Other Projects and Programs. Some projects can be completed in isolation. There are no dependencies on people or organizations outside the project team itself. However, most projects are dependent on other people, projects, teams and organizations. A project manager must work with other project and program managers to coordinate tasks so that both/all projects can be delivered.

Project management is complex. There are often so many competing views, priorities, decisions, personalities and goals. There are typically controllable and uncontrollable dependencies. There are problems and more problems. There are knowns and unknowns.

Yet it is helpful to know that a project manager has a fairly succinct set of responsibilities and that, in the end, a skillful project manager can focus on the nine primary responsibilities above and use tools and techniques to move projects forward and complete them successfully.

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About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn

By |December 27th, 2012|Tips|Comments Off on What is a Project Manager?|

The Five Stages of Every Project

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The Five Stages Of Every Project

According to the Project Management Institute, there are five stages or sets of steps that every single project must follow:

1. Initiate.

During this stage, interested people define the project at a high-level, identify the goals of the project and set the guidelines and constraints to govern the project going forward. Once defined, a decision is made to move forward with the project or not.

The most important questions to address during this stage include:

  • What is the overall goal of this project?
  • How will success be measured? What explicit criteria will be used?
  • What is the high level scope of the project?
  • Who are the key players? Customer? Team members? Financier? End-Customer?Vendors? Partners? Objectors? Influencers?
  • At a high-level, what needs to be done in order to achieve the goal?
  • Among all the other projects, tasks and activities, is now the right time to pursue this project?
  • Are there any conflicting goals, projects or or environmental challenges that must be considered?
  • Is there sufficient buy-in from appropriate authorities and stakeholders?
  • Are the right resources (e.g. team, budget, office space, computers) in place to make this project successful?

2. Plan.

During this stage, a more detailed effort is made to define the specific tasks, resources, schedule and budget. All of these things are put into a master project plan, which can be tracked using sophisticated software like Microsoft Project or with a simple tool like Microsoft Word or Excel. For really simple projects, it might be sufficient to use a notepad.

I worked with a colleague who often said, “The plan is nothing. Planning is everything.” My former colleague is exactly right! Too often, project managers want to define a project plan and set it in stone. This is entirely wrong! Inevitably, things change and an effective project manager must adapt along the way. The plan must be created to set the path forward but must not be written in stone. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. The important thing during this stage is that thought and effort are exerted to identify the key steps that must be taken to complete the project, people are identified to complete each step, that a timeline is established to complete the overall project and each step within it and that a financial budget is set and understood by everyone who needs to know.

Critical questions to ask during the Plan stage include:

  • What is the detailed scope of the project?
  • What steps or tasks need to be completed to achieve the project goals?
  • Who needs to complete each step or task?
  • By when does each task need to be completed?
  • What are the absolute critical tasks that must be completed?
  • How much money and other resources are available to be used during this project?
  • Are there any dependencies that could impact the delivery or success of this project? If so, are they controllable dependencies or not?
  • What other risks are there at the outset? What can be done to proactively manage the risks?

3. Execute.

During this stage, actual work begins. Now, I’m not saying that initiating and planning a project isn’t work. But sometimes initiating and planning feel more like talking about and preparing to do work than doing work itself. By this stage, however, the project is beyond preparation. People are in place, sometimes many people. For many business transformation, software and systems implementation projects, teams of people are documenting processes, identifying requirements or business needs, designing user interfaces, building and validating solutions and, finally, delivering solutions to the customer.

Questions that should be answered during this stage will vary greatly depending on the type of project being executed. However, typical questions include:

  • Are the needs or requirements stated clearly?
  • Do the appropriate people agree with the designed solution?
  • Does the solution meet the needs of the customer? End-user? Other stakeholders?
  • Is the solution ready to be delivered to the client/public/customer?
  • Have the end-users been sufficiently trained to use the new solution?

4. Monitor or Control.

This is an interesting stage because it occurs simultaneously with the Execute stage. While the Execute stage — or set of activities — focuses on getting work done, the activities to monitor or control a project aim to ensure that everything remains on-track. Often, a separate person or team of people monitor a project than those responsible for executing the project. This can be especially helpful for large projects as well as projects that are part of much larger programs or strategic initiatives. Often, the people who are “in the weeds” don’t have the time to see and be aware of what’s going on outside the project that could impact their project significantly.

Key questions to help monitor a project include:

  • Is the project on-track to deliver the expected results?
  • Is the project on-track from a schedule perspective?
  • Are individual tasks on-track to be completed?
  • Have any new issues arisen that must be addressed?
  • Have any new risks appeared that threaten project success?
  • Are there any risks or issues that must be escalated?
  • Are the resources still sufficient for the project?
  • Is the budget still sufficient?
  • Are there any dependencies outside the project that are falling behind schedule or impacting the project in some other way (e.g. quality, budget)?

5. Close.

For many projects, the line between the Execute and Close stages is very thin. Often, the Execute stage includes formal handoffs of solutions to clients and end-users. During a project closing, effort is placed on wrapping things up. That can include making final updates to the project plan, conducting a post-mortem assessment of how things went, interviewing stakeholders to obtain their feedback, documenting lessons learned to apply to the next project, reconciling the budget and providing final status updates to appropriate people.

By this point in the project lifecycle, most people are ready to move on. But it’s important to properly close out a project and address the following questions:

  • Did the project achieve the desired goals and objectives? If not, why not?
  • Is the customer — the one who funded the project — satisfied with the results?
  • Is all the documentation in its final state and stored in such a way that those who might need it can find it without too much trouble?
  • Were the project estimates on-target? If not, how far off were they and what can be done to improve them next time?
  • What lessons can be learned? Which ones are critical to apply next time around?
  • Were there any people on the project who you’d rather avoid next time around?

Five stages: Initiate, Plan, Execute, Monitor, Close. The examples I’ve presented assume a certain context, namely a typical project you might see in businesses around the world. Yet the same stages should be followed even with other types of projects such as weekend house-renovations, video-creation, blogging and self-improvement.

You will make great strides in your pursuit of succes if you define projects and ingrain these stages into them on a regular basis.

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About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn

By |December 18th, 2012|Tips|Comments Off on The Five Stages of Every Project|

What is an Outlier?

"Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book [Outliers] I'm interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August."
By |December 12th, 2012|Tips|Comments Off on What is an Outlier?|